Not too long ago I was checking the Amazon bestseller’s lists and found Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight listed under “Fantasy.” I then spent several moments blinking at the screen, contemplating what diabolical devilry this was and how anyone could so drastically confuse genres. Once I got over my snobbery, I realized why someone might think Twilight belongs in the Fantasy genre. After all, vampires in high school don’t belong to Nonfiction or Contemporary. But Twilight is not Fantasy, it is Paranormal Romance.
Paranormal Romance is a subset of the Romance and—yes—Fantasy genres, but tends to be a closer relation of Romance than Fantasy. The supernatural elements in Paranormal Romance are generally a source of conflict that adds more complication to the couples’ relationship in place of something like Edward Ferrars’ prior engagement or Shakespeare’s Capulets and Montagues. (There are exceptions, but I did say “generally.”) If you want to be a literalist, PNR can technically be lumped in with the Fantasy genre, but then some people say hippopotamuses can technically be lumped in with racehorses.
(Then there is the difference between your standard Paranormal Romance and a true Fantasy Romance, but that’s for a whole other blog post entirely.)
If you look at my reading list from last year, you will note that I am quite fond of Paranormal Romance and I’ve been known to write a bit of it. Some of my favorite books of all time belong to that subgenre, but my one true literary love will forever and always be true Fantasy.
When I say “true” Fantasy, I mean the Swords and Sorcery subgenre that encompasses series like Throne of Glass, The Lord of the Rings, Shadowmarch, and Game of Thrones. One cannot get much truer to Fantasy than a magical world born from the author’s mind. But series like Harry Potter and Inkheart also fall into Fantasy.
Fantasy means a setting entirely different from our everyday surroundings, whether that be an entirely different reality or a tweaked version of our own. Harry Potter takes place in Hogwarts and the Wizarding World, The Mortal Instruments takes place in the seedy underbelly of the supernatural world (at least the first book mostly did, I haven’t gotten to the others), and the Sword and Sorcery examples I’ve given are self explanatory. In a Fantasy book that takes place on Earth, there should be some preternatural element around which the story revolves, like in The Exemeus or A Wrinkle in Time and in all Fantasy subsets the villain should have motivation involving the ethereal or be using some sort of ethereal power to achieve his/her ends or both.
I grew up with Fantasy from the time I was old enough to watch Disney movies and it was kind of like a third parent or maybe a fourth sibling. That might be just a tad dramatic, but the fact remains that I am deeply passionate about the genre and that makes me deeply protective of what makes it what it is. So call me a nit-picker and a literary snob, if you must. I will be over here, staunchly preaching the traits and distinctions of the true Fantasy genre.